The South China Sea Holiday Potluck

Okay, so the holidays are over, but we are still reminiscing on the details of our Christmas party last month. If you are familiar with our firm then you probably know about the annual John MacDonald Architect holiday potluck party. For the past 20 years our Christmas Potluck has had a worldly theme; this year the festivities where inspired by the South China Sea. Attendees could select any country that coasts the sea to create a traditional dish. The main countries represented in this year’s meal were China, Vietnam, Malaysia and, the Philippines. 


The party always starts with a welcoming beverage; this year’s drink was a mango daiquiri. The rum that was on hand to make this drink was 65% proof, so the amount put into the drink should have been cut back, of course that didn’t happen. Needless to say, the first sips of the daiquiri were strong and more mango and ice was added to try to tone down the rum taste, with little success. While still delicious, we only had one round of this slushy drink.


This year the meal started with some “lighter” appetizers, included Pilipino spring rolls, banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), and spicy prawn and scallop satays. The appetizers where gone in no time, and most of us were satisfied before we even started the entreés. A light and fresh tasting hot and sour shrimp soup then kicked off the main course.

Before we dug into our meal, the usual round table explanation of ingredients and cooking method was presented by each chef. The main course consisted of the best-ever sticky asian ribs, bbq chicken, stew, chicken skewers with peanut sauce, grilled asparagus and rice. This year’s mains were a bit heavy on the meat, but all very delicious. The flavours complemented each other extremely well, with hints of lime, ginger, and turmeric, helping to bring each dish together on one plate.


Next up; Dessert! This year there was a lot of sweet treats to choose from. There were two flavours of home made ice cream; roasted coconut and star of anise, both could be accompanied with either a banana sticky rice or the tapioca pudding, or each could stand alone. With full bellies we ended the evening chatting and dividing the left-over up to take home for lunch the next day.


JMA Massassauga Camping Trip II

The Second Annual JMA Canoeing Adventure officially began in the parking lot beside our office. It was a Friday morning in early August, when 5 adventurers – John, Margaret, Matthew, A.J.(me) and Michelle – embarked on a two night, three day journey into the great outdoors. Northbound from Kitchener, they crossed the country in two trusty Toyota’s arriving at Pete’s Point in Massassauga Provincial Park in the early afternoon. After the canoes were rented and loaded, they embarked upon the second leg of the journey, across the water and into the wilderness. The weather was outstanding. We managed to make it to our site in 2 or so hours despite a slight head wind, and break for a dip part way.


The Campsite, located deep in the Massassauga Archipelago was full of possibilities, complete with a slowly rising shelf of Precambrian Shield for swimming, two great tent clearings, a bathroom box in the woods with a view of a beautiful grotto like brooke, a grill for the fire and a leaky teapot someone had left for us. After the tents were set up, John and I set out to get some extra fuel (wood). We found a dead tree and set about harvesting the better part of the top third bringing it back to site in the canoe. John made a roaring fire which died down into a nice bed of coals upon which he cooked 4 very nice, very large pieces of top sirloin beef. The Friday feast was completed with corn, eggplant and peppers, salad and grilled pineapple and peaches, poached in rum.








On Saturday morning, after a few of us took a dip, we prepared breakfast. Using Margaret’s large paella pan, we cooked a pound of bacon, and then (with a lot of the grease sizzling away still in the pan) we made peach pancakes. The trick with peach pancakes is to bring instant pancake mix and canned peaches. Chop the peaches in the can, then add with the juice into the pancake mix. We had terrific results and will likely recycle the recipe for the Third Annual JMA Canoe Adventure.


Despite a soft rain we embarked on a trip to Wreck Island, known for its geology and outstanding swimming. The water was very flat and the rain kept us cool as we paddled to the very edge of the archipelago. Upon our arrival the skies began to part and we enjoyed a very sunny picnic on the island. The picnic featured three types of sandwiches, a genoa salami with spinach and dijon mustard on a healthy artisanal multi-grain, a hummus wrap with roast veggies, and a cucumber sandwich on a light rye with fresh dill and lemon cream cheese.


After a refreshing swim under a very blue sky we pushed off again, bound for our camp site. The paddle home was long under a hot sun. We had a delicious chili with avocado and buns for dinner. The evening was spent by the fire with smores, and jokes and laughs.

IMG_6262Sunday morning was filled with relaxing and intermittent packing. At noon we said farewell to the campsite and, with a breeze at our back we leisurely paddled back to the launching docks. After dropping off the canoes we headed back south to civilization. We stopped for Ice Cream in Mactier and continued to snake through the country avoiding the Muskoka traffic. For the final meal of the weekend we enjoyed a high class affair at the Whistle Stop in Beaton. In various levels of grunginess we five adventurers savoured the fabulous meal before we finished the drive into the sunset and home to Kitchener.

top photo

St. Thomas Community Recycling Centre – PIC

What is a PIC? A Public Information Centre is a communication tool used to share information with the public, as a group in one place, regarding a specific topic.2015-05-06 17.08.58copy On Wednesday, May 6th, 2015, JMA presented and facilitated a PIC for the City of St. Thomas’ Community Recycling Centre held at the City Hall. The purpose of this PIC was to present the community with the proposed project design and to receive comments and concerns regarding the project. To accomplish the task at hand JMA produced the following:

  • 9 presentation boards to be displayed around the room, highlighting the facility design, operations and specific aspects of the project which were deemed important for design decisions;
  • comment sheets with specific questions for the public’s participation;
  • a presentation of the project’s development and proposed design to date.

Welcome The first section of the PIC was an ‘open house’ for the public to browse the presentation boards and converse with the design team one-on-one. The second section was the presentation, projected large on the wall and presented by the design team (John MacDonald, David Smith and Ashley Jardin). The third and last section was a question and answer period where the public had free range to lead the discussion. Site Design The project was well received and the public turn-out and participation was excellent.



Everyone knows about brainstorming, but have you ever heard of DesignStorming? This is a technique we use often at John MacDonald Architect (JMA). It helps to explore the infinite possibilities of a particular project by compiling solutions from different designers with different approaches and styles.

Our most recent DesignStorm was undertaken for a lighting project here in our office. Each designer was presented with the existing situation, which was 3 fluorescent light fixtures that run the length of our office. Designers where then given the task; these large, long lights required some form of stylish covering.


Existing condition of light fixtures

There where 6 designer and 4 days where given to prepare before each designer presented their idea. The process was to, come-up with a design, consider how to implement that design, create a short presentation and present it to the other designers and office. It is surprising the range of creativity and designs that where presented. See below for all 6 designs:

Margaret Composite txt-01

Lighting design 1 – Canopy

Trena Composite-01

Lighting Design 2 – Colour Wave

Lisa Composite

Lighting Design 3 – Reflecting Arc

John Composite txt

Lighting Design 4 – Backdrop

Ashley Composite txt

Lighting Design 5 – Light Wall

Matt Composite txt-01

Lighting Design 6 – Unfurl

At JMA we believe that exploring several options and approaches is the key to successful results. We have done DesignStorms for several projects large and small, from a 3000 sq. ft. house to an office redesign, to a little cottage kitchen renovation. The results are always promising and a variety of resolutions are presented, but we call it a DesignStorm and not a Design Competition, because the final design is alway some form of mixing the designs into one, creating the very best possible solution. It is really a process that helps the client see the possibilities and to select the elements that best suite them and their needs.

The final design for our office fluorescent light fixtures, wrapping the outside of the fixture with a canvas material and caping the ends with a custom wood piece, keeping the feeling of openness between the main room and storage room. The final product is a tribute to the Canopy and Backdrop designs, merged into a new design that is practical, functional and attractive.

Lighting Final


Pre-Columbia Tropical American Potluck

Every year the friends and family of JMA gather to share in the holiday season with a themed potluck. Through this event the attendees taste buds travel the world. This year we not only visited South America but we also traveled through time, to the days before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The name of this year’s event, “Pre-Columbian Tropical America”.


As always our holiday potluck started with a traditional drink. At past events this has been tea, beer or liqueurs. This year we were treated to Pisco Sours, a cocktail originating in Peru. This sweet and sour beverage was a big hit among the potluck attendees, so much so that we ran out of the Pisco and lime juice. Get the recipe here: Pisco Sour.


The dishes were placed on the table in preparation for dinner and before the meal began each dish was explained by its maker and the themed dishes were revealed. As you can see the table looked stunning with bright colours, and interesting textures topped with fresh garnishes.

    IMG_0563                  IMG_0557

The pumpkin soup was served first. The warm purée was a nice way to awaken the palate in anticipation of the intense flavours of lime, hot peppers, cilantro and onion.  A roasted wild boar on a bed of sweet potatoes was one of the highlights of the event. The boar was purchased from a local farm outside Stratford and had a lovely mild taste and juicy meaty texture. Unfortunately we don’t have the recipe for this dish. It was more of an improvised creation inspired on readings of Pre-Columbian cooking culture.

It took us until dessert before we noticed that the Cuban rumba background music was on repeat, playing the same 3 minute song continuously all evening, a testament to the good food and good times. The desserts were no let down to the excitement of the mains. There were Alfajores, a sandwich like cookie with dulce de leche in the middle, and a tropical fruit salad in a light prickly pear juice. Sweet treats were not common in Pre-Columbian times, but we couldn’t go without dessert now, could we?

We encourage you to try some of these exciting dishes. Let us know how it works out!

JMA’s Pre-Columbian Potluck Recipes

Pisco Sour

Sikil-Pak Dip

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Nopalitos Salad

Boiled Yuca with Mojo

Black Quinoa with Squash

Zic de Venado (pickled Venison)


Alfajores cookies

Tropical Fruit Salad

Apparitions-Kitchener City Hall-Night/Shift 2014

Apparitions – Night/Shift 2014

Earlier this year, following the call for proposals for Night/Shift 2014, JMA and MT Space sat down to discuss a collaborative piece between our architectural practice and their theatrical one. Early on, John suggested we consider doing something that engaged the public space at Kitchener City Hall. We found that both parties were deeply interested in looking at issues of public space in relation to individual identity and community interaction. We wanted to do something provocative, fun and interactive, that would in turn create a dialogue between strangers, and thus Apparitions was born.

We came to the title Apparitions for our piece, with the thought that the installation and its actors were a temporary appearance that offered a reinterpretation of the way that people commonly interact with the public space at City Hall. Our actors were in a sense apparitions themselves; slipping in and out of the actor / audience role.

After months of development and discussion, the form of the physical installation was decided upon. Since there are two mirrored porticos in front of Kitchener City Hall, we decided to create an illuminated veil with a projection screen at each portico. This would enable audiences to see and talk to each other instantly. At each portico, actors from MT Space would invite festival participants to interact and play across the divide of the civic square.

Apparitions - John MacDonald Architect

Apparitions – John MacDonald Architect

Heedless of this year’s first snowfall, on Saturday, November 1st, an enthusiastic team of volunteers along with friends of JMA & MT Space, worked together, to assemble the installation for its one night performance. Several sponsors provided us with the materials needed to put on a great show. Although there were some technical difficulties to work through early in the evening, overall the installation was a great success.

At Night/Shift, people of all ages interacted with each other through the screens of Apparitions, sometimes singing songs, dancing, asking questions to strangers or mimicking actors. It was all great fun and at the same time, reflective of what public space is supposed to do; bring people together.

Apparitions-Screen Shot


screen interaction 6




We’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors who made this possible: Canadian Tire, Kitchener Wilmot Hydro, CRS Contractors Rental Supply, Form & Build Supply, City of Kitchener, Christie Digital and Sherwood Systems.

Also to our volunteers, who laboured tirelessly, giving generously of their time and muscle – Thank you for your hard work. This would not have been a success without you.

The new window installed.

Adventures in Window Installation

One Thursday, a couple of weeks ago, the JMA office endeavoured to replace one of the existing, low performance windows in the office meeting room, with a newer, higher performance model. The building in which JMA is located is the renovated Bonnie Stuart Shoe Factory. The building was originally built in 1910 and carried out its shoe making processes until 1997. Over the years, renovations have been carried out to adapt this older building to its current usage. Replacing the old single pane windows are a part of this ongoing process of renewal.

JMA staff undertook the exercise of replacing the window in our office Meeting Room as a training exercise. Given the many times that each of us have drawn window details, we thought that this would be a good way to get a better understanding of the steps involved in constructing those details. Through this we also hoped to find better ways to detail our windows, while still considering ease of installation.

John pioneered the detailing of the windows with Monica, a JMA intern. With the details in mind, John assembled the materials we’d need for installation, including stainless steel trim, adhesives, vapour barrier tape and in lieu of butyl tape (which the hardware was out of), a sticky, black, resinous tape. In order to first remove the existing window and trim, we gathered an assortment of hammers, pry bars and power tools.

Adhesive applied to glass to control glass as it shatters.

Adhesive applied to glass to control glass as it shatters.

The construction team included John, Matt, Ashley and Lisa with Margaret as our occasional photographer. Our first steps involved preparing the new window for insertion into the opening as well as preparing the existing window for removal.

Preparation of New Window with trim and resinous tape flaps

Preparation of New Window with trim and resinous tape flaps

Removal of the Existing Window Part 1

Removal of the Existing Window Part 1

While John and Lisa worked on applying resinous tape flaps to the new window, Ashley and Matt rose to the challenge of removing the existing window glass and muntins. They wielded power tools like professionals and applied brute force as necessary.

Removal of the Existing Window Part 2

After the muntins came free, John had to grind down the remaining steel edges in order to smoothen the opening for the new window.

John with Grinder

John with Grinder

At that point, we were ready for the insertion of the new window. First, we ensured that insulation and blocking was installed at the bottom of the window opening. Then, since we attached the stainless steel trim to the window before hand, we lifted and fit the window into the available space with some thoughtful manoeuvring.

Installation with thoughtful manoeuvring

Installation with thoughtful manoeuvring

Connecting the existing vapour barrier to the new one was a challenge that took some innovation. Once the window was in its opening, we all worked hard to ensure that the vapour barrier flaps connected on all sides and applied some extra to ensure that corners were well sealed. Rock wool insulation was then placed at the stainless steel trim.

The new window installed.

The new window installed.

Many lessons were learned for the next time we do this. There is one more window in the office that needs the same treatment as this one. Now that the team has a bit of experience, I am sure that the next installation, will be quicker and easier.

The running joke that morning was, ‘how many architects does it take to install a window?’. Well, I’m here to tell you; it takes exactly four.